Folks often break out in a cold sweat at the thought of cooking up a curry as the complexity of the spice blends seems so bewildering to a newcomer, but we'll simplify it and start out with a good, basic spice mix which can have complexity worked in as you become more confident.
Our ingredient list is quite simple:
- Base - Onion, garlic, ginger & chillies
- Spices - Ground coriander, ground cumin, turmeric, asafoetida & fenugreek
- Fat - Ghee or butter
- Protein - Paneer (Cheese)
- Vegetables - Marrow, courgette, aubergine & peas
- Garnish - Black mustard seeds, lemon wedge & coriander
- Flavouring - Sea salt & black pepper
Paneer is an Indian curd cheese; milk set off with lemon juice, pressed overnight and cut into cubes. Yes, you can buy it. Do check the ingredients, which should read no more than milk and more likely acetic acid than lemon juice for a commercially produced cheese.
Paneer is the protein base for this otherwise vegetarian curry. Vegetables provide the rest of the bulk and it's your choice as to what you put in. I went with marrow, courgette, aubergine and peas. Cauliflower, squash, potato, carrot, daikon, mushrooms, whetever you fancy can all go into this curry.
Proportions do not have to be exact. Cooking is about taste and flavour - if you want more of something, put more in. If you like less of something, use less. If you cook too much for one sitting, great ... you've got lunch sorted, or a simple base for another dinner that will just need bulking out.
I'm going to base this around one large onion, which I find sets out the right proportion for two people, one hungry person or for one with leftovers.
Let's build this curry ...
Every curry has a base of onion.
Usually, caramelised, with garlic, ginger and some chillies. Tomato, sometimes, but notice I don't use tomato in this curry.
Shred a large onion and settle it into a heavy based skillet with an inch off the end of a stick of butter. Yes, an inch. Butter provides a wonderful flavour to this dish. Use ghee if you prefer, but butter is all good to me. We're not going to be cooking this on a high heat, so don't worry about hitting the smoke point or fat oxidisation.
Let the onions caramelise on a low heat for about 20 minutes.
The onions will become darker, but should not catch. Keep the heat low. This caramelisation releases all the sugars, which make the flavour of this dish.
Once nicely browned, add in a couple of cloves of minced garlic, a little ginger and a couple of chillies. Sea salt and black pepper, just a pinch and a grind.
Every curry has spice.
Let's make a simple spice mix from a teaspoon of ground coriander, teaspoon of ground cumin and teaspoon of turmeric powder. Add half a teaspoon of fenugreek and half a teaspoon of asafoetida.
Bung the lot into your skillet, stir well and cook on for another 10 minutes. That's 30 minutes in total.
Cube up your cheese into large chunks, say an inch cubes and toss through the onion spice mix. Some folks like to fry off until brown, but I don't. I like just coated in the spice mix.
Add in your vegetables in good sized pieces. My marrow, courgette and aubergine were cut into inch cubes and dropped in along with a good handful of peas.
Stir through, top up with hot water just to cover, raise the heat to bring up to the boil and then reduce to a good simmer until the food is cooked and the liquid reduced. I guess another 20 minutes, or so.
Towards the end of cooking, add in a teaspoon of black mustard seeds and some fresh coriander, chopped.
Taste. Taste is everything. I could list ingredients and quantities until the cows come home, but it's of no use or validity, since taste is personal. You might like a little more spice, more chilli, more salt, more butter. Add it in at this point.
Once served out, garnish with fresh coriander leaves and a wedge of lemon.
That's it! Curry. Easy, simple concepts and a good base for you to play around with ...
Drop out the cheese and add in some fish, perhaps some chicken, large prawns, you get the drill.